Nearly every rural community has a museum of some sort. It’s easy to dismiss them as the quaint, locally-funded projects of cottage country and fly-over towns, isn’t it? That’s because there’s a perception that if they aren’t the size and infamy of the Royal Ontario Museum, then it’s no big deal if you give them a miss for something more entertaining. It’s an unfortunate perception, and it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Well, folks, we challenge this perception. Nay, we defy it—hard! To prove it, we invite you to the Museum of Dufferin, where the local history of rural Dufferin County is not only preserved, it’s showcased in a state-of-the-art facility that encourages visitors to interact with the exhibits and programs that bring history to life.
Nanci Malek is the Events, Marketing and Promotions Coordinator at the Museum of Dufferin (MoD for short). For the last four decades she has been at the forefront of the Canadian music and entertainment scene. “People are quite surprised when they come,” she says. “It’s not a little country museum. It’s actually quite a high-class country museum.”
MoD might very well be a descriptor for the museum’s atmosphere, as well as its acronym. The museum has recently undergone significant renovations. Today, visitors are welcomed into a haven of open space with a clean, modern feel.
The pride and joy of the museum is the corn flower glass gallery. “We have the largest collection of this glassware in the world, and the company started here in Dufferin County,” Nanci exclaims. “It’s displayed in a beautiful, state-of-the-art glass gallery. It’s absolutely stunning.” Other exciting exhibits include Temperance and Temptation, which is a look back at the prohibition era in Dufferin County, and True Grit, which honours community leaders past and present. Can’t make it to the museum in person? Check out MoD’s website for an online exhibit of the Spanish flu: Sufferin’ in Dufferin.
The Museum of Dufferin goes beyond simply showcasing historical artifacts behind a barricade of glass, though. Staff offer a number of educational and interactive programming throughout the year as well. Events like escape rooms, scavenger hunts and festivals are just some of the exciting things to come out and take part in. The MoD Talks series has hosted such national celebrities as Terry O’Reilly and George Stromboulopoulos. This year MoD Talks welcomes long-standing Canadian radio broadcaster Michael Enright and singer-songwriter Jim Cuddy from the band Blue Rodeo. Also this year, the museum will be doing its first Prohibition Halloween Dinner Theatre with Canadian actress and comedian Mag Ruffman, which is an extension of its Temperance and Temptation exhibit.
At Museum of Dufferin, it’s about preserving local history and paying respect to the people that made the community. In this way, the museum ensures that the past is not only respected, but remains relevant to its visitors today. “These are the stories that make you who you are,” Nanci insists. “It gives you an idea of what your ancestors went through. We are so lucky at this point in history to have the information and the stories. Some of these stories were never passed on, so that’s the beautiful thing about archive departments and collections. This is the land where people literally tilled the soil, cut the trees, and built the buildings. Folks have come over from the UK and started their lives anew here, and I have such respect for them and what they went through.”
To commemorate the innovative local minds of Dufferin County, MoD will launch its Tinker exhibit this March to look back on all those inventions that community members have contributed to the world. But what inventions, you may ask, could possibly have been made in a rural Ontario farming community like Dufferin that are of any relevance today? Try the snow plow. “Aren’t we glad we have that now?” Nanci laughs.
For the staff at MoD, simply being a part of the museum and what it offers to the community—indeed to the wider region, for MoD attracts visitors from much farther away than just its own backyard—is a reward all its own. Many of the staff come from diverse backgrounds and training, but they each share a love of history, of community, and of preserving the past for future generations. “Forty years of rock and roll and I end up at a country museum,” Nanci laughs, recalling her own entertainment background fondly. “But I have an insatiable appetite for research and for finding out the family connections. To be able to provide that to people as a way for them to learn… I feel a lot of gratitude that I’m in a position to connect the dots for people with history.”
Visit Nanci and her colleagues at the Museum of Dufferin in Mulmur, 936029 Airport Rd. For more information, or to find details on its upcoming events and programs, visit online at www.dufferinmuseum.com, or call (519) 941-1114.
Story by Katherine Ryalen